Assassination plots, religious ceremonies from across the universe, and the appearance of our final two main secondary cast members join this much more enjoyable and solid episode. Welcome my friends. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2258. The name of the place is Babylon 5.
1. Illudium Phozdex, the Shaving Cream Atom
Sci-fi technobabble is a lot of fun. Whenever I hear it, I can let the nonsense wash over me and feel like I’ve been transported to another world, another time, where words and sounds I should recognize are reconstructed in ways that are alien to me. Babylon 5 has been mostly free of this but there’s always some machine, some technique or some mineral/atom waiting around the corner. There was a moment in this episode, when Catherine was talking with the people she surveyed a planet for, that they talk about high levels of “Quantium 40” on some planetoid.
Not a big moment in the episode, heck, that line is only there to provide explanation for why Catherine is coming into some money, but it’s there all the same. Just a fun line from some character actors I thought I’d point out.
2. Can You Do it…Na’Toth?
Remember a few weeks ago when I said we had met most of the cast of the show. Well, suffice it to say that we have now met all of them…mostly. Look it’s complicated and I won’t weigh you down with those complications until the time is right and the season nears its end. For now, though, all the principle cast has been introduced with the arrival of Attaché Na’Toth and Attaché Lennier. All three major ambassadors have their second in command but until this point, we’ve only met Vir.
Now that we’ve met Na’Toth and Lennier, I can gush about one of them. Na’Toth, from the second she’s on screen, is a breath of fresh air and Julie Caitlin Brown absolutely nails it. I don’t know if her appearance on the show was always the plan or if the previous Narn attaché, Ko D’Ath, wasn’t working out but I’m very grateful for her inclusion. Her wit is razor sharp and her delivery is just deadpan enough to be funny. She acts as a perfect foil to G’Kar’s flustered, prideful, energetic, and sometimes childish personality.
All the diplomatic pairs act this way, riffing on different styles of the two-person comedy routine. Vir and Londo being Laurel and Hardy while Na’Toth and G’Kar are more Abbott and Costello. Delenn and Lennier don’t quite fit this, or I can’t figure out which group they’re like, because they are less comedic between themselves and their characters are more serious within the show.
3. When We Celebrate, Oh Brother, Do We Celebrate
Speaking of the comedy stylings of Londo Molari, he returns, if only for a little bit, this week and it is glorious. Londo is drunk, celebrating his planet’s customs of celebrating, well, the genocide of an entire peoples. Not a funny set up but that’s not the part that’s meant to be funny. If there’s one this Babylon 5 is good at, it’s making the universe real, in all its complexities, and attempting to layer those so the audience can build up a full picture of the many levels interactions these characters have to endure.
The real world is messy, with feuds and cultures and ideas that don’t align with our own, for which we don’t always have the context for. When we do get that context, we make judgements, for good or for ill, and we act on those. It’s a small moment in this episode but its illustrative of the greater whole. It’s also a stark view of our traditions and what it’s like to look into a culture/religion that is not one’s own. It’s an awkward feeling, to be somewhere where the traditions are not ones own. It’s disorienting, the connection everyone else shares not being there. In the show, there is a tension in the room from the non-Centauri because they, just like us, do not understand in full the celebration on a participatory level but also on a cultural level.Continued below
They try but it’s not baked into them. The celebration Londo and the Centauri are participating in is a unifying factor in their culture and is understood at a deep, subconscious level. When you’ve been surrounded your whole life with something, it is natural, it becomes part of who you are. Does that make it a celebration that is right? In the Centauri case, there’s something deeply troubling about celebrating the deaths of an entire species with drink and good riddance.
Yet it is also a celebration of life, from a time when war was all around and their fellows were dying. Resentment and bitterness does not go away easily and it’s easy to pass judgment from the outside and dismiss something complex as wholly bad. The show asks us not to. As with all traditions, it’s worthy of interrogation but not dismissal.
4. Planet Ex
Oof, okay. That got a bit heady and heavy. I’d make a joke here but well, I don’t have any good ones. Instead, let’s talk Sinclair and Catherine. Let me get this out of the way first. Catherine’s acting is on par with episode one Sinclair and Ivanova. Not quite settled into the role but still doing a good job. It feels like an actor in front of you instead of a character. That being said, I appreciate, again, the complexity of their relationship. It’s self-aware in ways that two older people would be self-aware.
They’ve experienced a lot and that experience influences their actions. Sinclair obviously misses her while Catherine is warier, not wanting a repeat of the past and unsure if Sinclair, or she, has changed enough to make sure it sticks this time around.
They do. At least as far as this episode is concerned. Which is enough for me. The kissing scene was awkward though. What’s with this show and awkward kissing scenes?
5. Earth Customs of the 23 and a Half Century
There is something deeply 90s about the ending to this episode. It’s not a bad thing, just an observation. It’s this, racism and bigotry between humans is over, type ending but, knowing the show, that isn’t actually the case. The show doesn’t ever make that point, that by 2258 bigotry is over. It shows the ever-shifting nature of hate and how humans, and aliens, change their targets while all the while remain hateful. It’s not apparent yet, and I’ve tried not to reference future plot points, but the ending to this episode got me thinking about it.
The ending itself is the best it could have been, acting as an assertion of hope for the future as well as an in-character response from Commander Sinclair. It’s an assertion that it is our diversity of thought and of belief that makes us strong. The final shot goes out of its way to feel long, to encompass so many types of people and it also asserts that belief is not tied only to religion as we conceptualize of it today. Babylon 5 is all about the hope for peace and striving to find it, make it, or save it. It’s an ideal but an ideal worth striving for.
That about does it for now. Join me again next week for a Talia Winters centric episode featuring a star child and mind games on the station that wraps humans and aliens in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal . . . all alone in the night. This is Elias. Signing out.
Best Line of the Night:
“Everybody’s cute. Even me. But in purple? I am stunning.” – Londo Molari, right before collapsing into unconsciousness.